Janus’ Musings

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Malthus – a false prophet?

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A lot has been written about how wrong Malthus was with his theory and how all is well with the population v/s food balance in the world. The recent increase in food prices has helped re-ignite that debate and the Economist calls Malthus a “false prophet”. I have a few disagreements:

  1. Malthus first set out his ideas in 1798!!! Given the time, I think his study was probably way ahead of his time.
  2. In 1803, Malthus published a second edition of his essay and softened the tone by introducing the concept of a “preventive check” – saying the problem could be averted if the birth/death rates changed voluntary. Again, way ahead of his time!
  3. This was pre-industrialization and pre-green revolution so when these happened people came to the conclusion that Malthus was wrong.
  4. However, the statistics today show more than ever that Malthus was right about the “preventive check”. World population growth has reduced to an annual rate of 1.2% – probably the slowest ever.

This leads me to believe that maybe Malthus had it wrong in the 1798 essay but probably got it right in the 1803. Without a preventive check we will have a problem and that should be a warning to everyone. Increased productivity of food through better use to technology can only go so far.


Written by janusmusings

May 30, 2008 at 2:24 am

Posted in Lies Damned lies and Statistics

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